With under a couple of days to go until the Predators open the 2013-14 season in St. Louis against the Blues, there’s no lack of intrigue in Nashville. Over the next 6 days, the Predators will not only make their final cuts, but set their lines, hoping to improve upon their non-playoff finish last year. With pressure starting to build on both the players and the management, here are the five key story-lines to watch heading into the 2013-14 season.
Poile in the Hot Seat?
While most will look at General Manager’s David Poile’s time at the reins of the Nashville Predators and see overwhelming success with little resources, it must be noted that this will be 17th consecutive year as Predator’s GM and in that time the Predators will have only made it to the Conference Semi-finals twice. For some, it may seem like déjà-vu for those who are familiar with Poile’s career, as his 15-year tenure with the Washington Capitals, a team that once also had limited resources, was ended with only one trip to the Conference Finals, resulting in a sweep by the Bruins.
With a multitude of offseason moves, bringing in a mix of veterans and grit, many fans were left wondering about whom on the Predators would provide the offense. If the Predators fail to find their offensive touch, its likely that Poile, who was recognized for his work by being named General Manager of the 2014 US Olympic Hockey team, could find himself looking for employment elsewhere. Without at least a playoff appearance, the Predators would be likely to determine if this is the end of the road for Poile.
Spotlight on Seth
Drafted fourth overall in the 1st round of this year’s NHL Entry Draft, few players taking the ice at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis will be doing so with the amount of pressure to succeed that has been placed on Seth Jones’s shoulder. After the departure of Ryan Suter to the Minnesota Wild last offseason, the Predators found a practicable replacement in the Swiss 23-year old, Roman Josi. Although Josi played admirably over the season, it was no shock to hear that Jones will be given the first chance alongside Shea Weber to start the season.
With all of the patrons of the Bridgestone Arena looking forward to some flash from the blue-line, Seth Jones will be entering the picture with already heightened expectations. Jones will have little time to adjust to the NHL before fans and the media start to criticize the Predators’ choice.
Flipping over Filip
Picked up in exchange for Martin Erat in a trade with the Washington Capitals, Filip Forsberg has a golden opportunity to provide the flair on offense that the Predators have been sorely missing with the absence of a player like Radulov. The 19-year old, out of Sweden was selected 11th overall in 2012 by the Capitals.
After the addition of Seth Jones to the defense corps, the pressure will be put squarely on Forsberg to perform. While Martin Erat was always more than just a serviceable forward, Forsberg is expected to become an offensive juggernaut that could provide the spark this team has been looking for.
Kicking Ice, Taking Names
Well, if Poile can be criticized for not adding significant scoring prowess over the offseason, one thing that most can agree upon is that the Predators got a lot tougher to play against. Through free agency, Poile added Matt Cullen, Viktor Stalberg, Matt Hendricks, and Eric Nystrom, and re-signed Rich Clune, providing the Predators with a considerable upgrade to their grit, as well as adding to their veteran leadership.
Fresh off a Stanley Cup victory with the Chicago Blackhawks, 27-year old Viktor Stalberg’s 6-3 frame should help open up the ice for the Predators, as long as he continues to use it effectively as he did during the playoffs. Whereas free-agent gem Matt Hendricks, a utility-infielder type-player with the Washington Capitals in the 2012-13 season, can play on the penalty kill as well as both wings and center and should come in handy in a variety of situations.
What’s clear by these moves is that heading into the 2013-14 season, Poile desired to build a team that was physically bruising to grind the tough and tumble Central Division down.
One of the most intriguing, but yet least surprising story-lines heading into the 2013-14 season is the division realignment that was
approved in the offseason, subtracting the Detroit Red Wings and adding the Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, Winnipeg Jets, and Dallas Stars. While there is potential for expanded rivalries with these newcomers, including built-in story-lines around 2013 draftees and former star defenseman, it will be difficult to emulate the rivalry the Predators, and their fans, built with the Motor City.
At the same time, the Predators are going to be faced with a lot of unknowns in this new format, especially since only 4 teams from the division will be getting a shot at the playoffs this year. With the Blackhawks and Blues annual contenders for a playoff spot that will most likely leave the other 5 teams to battle for the final 2 slots.
What is really not known so far is how the Predators will fit in to their new division, especially with their recent struggles. Will they find themselves in the middle of the field or could their lack of offense put them squarely in the basement?